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  1. #1
    Senior Member 1855Cru's Avatar
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    How do you define a hilly ride?

    A friend was up visiting from FL last weekend and he brought along his bike. He wanted to do a couple of rides in the 25-35 mile range, preferably one flatish and the other moderately hilly. This got me thinking about how we define the hilliness of rides. I know ascents are categorized from HC to cat 5 but I didn't know if there were any broad classifications for total rides?

    So I looked back over a year's worth of Garmin data trying to find rides that would fit his needs. This turned out to be a useful exercise and I ended up categorizing my rides by their hilliness factor

    This is the formula I came up with for rides in the 25-60 mile range along with my avg moving speed for each class.

    Flat rides: Less than 300 ft elevation gain per 10 miles: 20+ mph avg
    Flat to Rolling: 300 to 500 ft gain/10 miles: 18-20mph avg
    Rolling to moderately hilly: 500 to 700 ft gain/10 miles: 17 to 18 mph avg
    Moderately hilly to Hilly: 700 to 1000 ft gain/10 miles: 15 to 17 mph avg
    Hilly to Very Hilly: 1000 to 1500 ft gain/10 miles: 12 to 15 mph avg

    In the end we did one ride that was at the high end of the flat to rolling class and another that was in the low end of the mod hilly to hilly class. Coming from FL, he felt the first ride was 'a bit hilly' and the second ride 'downright hilly'

    How would these classifications compare to rides in your area?
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  2. #2
    The cat says Merry Xmas Pamestique's Avatar
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    I do a ride that's 3500' ft of climbing in 15 miles... I consider it rolly to hilly (since its alot of up and down and up and down). I've learned over the years that "hilly" is relative. What is a "hill" to me might now be a hill to someone else or vice versa. I was planning this route and a friend said... "do we have to do all those hills!!!" I responded "Hills? It's a flat ride.... oh you mean the overpasses!!!".

    A hill to me means there is at least a mile of climbing at a grade of 3% or more. Hilly means there is a lot of that or more. Where I live it's a fairly hilly place; it's hard to find a long flat ride (along the beach is about it and even then at times it gets "rolly"). But it depends on your fitness level, skill and experience. I don't think there's a formula and actual definition. It's not fair to tell beginners that 4 mile grade at 2% is not a hill. at some point that "mountain" becomes a molehill and the rider finds other challenges.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member RedC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pamestique View Post
    I do a ride that's 3500' ft of climbing in 15 miles... I consider it rolly to hilly (since its alot of up and down and up and down). I've learned over the years that "hilly" is relative. What is a "hill" to me might now be a hill to someone else or vice versa. I was planning this route and a friend said... "do we have to do all those hills!!!" I responded "Hills? It's a flat ride.... oh you mean the overpasses!!!".

    A hill to me means there is at least a mile of climbing at a grade of 3% or more. Hilly means there is a lot of that or more. Where I live it's a fairly hilly place; it's hard to find a long flat ride (along the beach is about it and even then at times it gets "rolly"). But it depends on your fitness level, skill and experience. I don't think there's a formula and actual definition. It's not fair to tell beginners that 4 mile grade at 2% is not a hill. at some point that "mountain" becomes a molehill and the rider finds other challenges.
    I live in Florida where most of our hills are less than a mile and most are less than 8% grade but I went to Albuquerque last year and we climbed for 20 miles at grades no more than 7%
    but the steady climbing combined with the altitude whipped me pretty good. Of course when we got to go down for 20 miles that was lot's of fun
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  4. #4
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    It all depends what you're used to. It isn't especially flat round here, and the ride I most frequently do when I have 2-3 hours to spare is about 40 miles with roughly 2000ft of climbing. That's what, about 500 ft per ten miles? I'd call that moderately hilly.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  5. #5
    Senior Member skinnysanta's Avatar
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    I call what I ride moderately rolling terrain usually no more than 1000 ft of gain and I can average 15-17mph on it. Central Carolina area.

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    Hilly depends on what flat is.

    I don't think it's possible to come up with an overall definition - maybe because I live in rolling terrain. I tend to define rides by the biggest climb. For instance, last weekend's ride probably had over 2,000' of climbing, but only three climbs; one was about 0.5 mile, the second 1.5 (at about 8%), and the third 0.25 mile (at about 10-12%). There were a bunch of fun rollers getting to the bottom of the second climb; I was able to attack those from the previous downhills, and rarely had to shift out of my big ring. But the total of those rollers was likely more than the 1.5 mile grind that came afterward.

    Maybe "hilly" should be defined as the fraction of a total ride you spend in low gears?

  7. #7
    Senior Member gyozadude's Avatar
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    I've never really stopped to classify a ride by elevation gain so much as the probability that the ride would force me to get off the bike and walk it. I've discovered that for many riders, there can be lots of hills and lots of variation in elevation, but the one that kills me and makes me suffer so badly I have to get off and push or makes we wish I went home, is the one that defines the "hilly" ones.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Yikes. And here I thought 1000 feet per 50 miles was considered "hilly".

    Guess I have a lot of weight to lose

  9. #9
    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    I apparently have yet to do any "real" hilly rides.

  10. #10
    Senior Member 1855Cru's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pamestique View Post
    I do a ride that's 3500' ft of climbing in 15 miles... I consider it rolly to hilly (since its alot of up and down and up and down). I've learned over the years that "hilly" is relative. What is a "hill" to me might now be a hill to someone else or vice versa. I was planning this route and a friend said... "do we have to do all those hills!!!" I responded "Hills? It's a flat ride.... oh you mean the overpasses!!!".
    I agree a hilly ride to me may not be to someone else, I was just interested to see what others considered hilly. In your case, wow, 3,500ft of climbing in 15 miles would be brutal in my book That's about a 4.5% avg grade over the entire ride, I don't have anything on my scale to describe that
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  11. #11
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Good question. In your shorter rides, I generally do my 10% rule: If it has 1,000 feet of gain or more per 10-miles (I call that 10%, even though it's not), it's a tough ride. And this continues on for whatever mileage.

    A year or so ago, I had tried to do something similar for century rides. I haven't really publicized it, so it hasn't caught on. It's a subjective evaluation based on feedback from other riders. I looked at several rides around the SoCal/NorCal area and asked some online friends.

    The chart looks like this:


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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by goldfinch View Post
    I apparently have yet to do any "real" hilly rides.
    Well, you can find hills in Northern MN... Just it is a lot easier to get in a hilly ride when you live on top of a 500 foot tall hill that works out to be around a 15-18% grade... Means there is an easy 500 feet of climbing in even a 1 mile ride. And if the valley is only a mile or two wide, well, then getting in 1000 feet of climbing in a 5 mile ride becomes a piece of cake. It'll also cure you of any illusions of bike heroism you might have had.

    These days tho, I live in nice FLAT Madison WI. If I want to get in climbing drill, I have to pick a route with a big hill on purpose. And even then, I have to go hunting to find anything remotely as unpleasant as my childhood rides home from the library. It makes a nice change.

    That said... downhills make climbing worth it. I don't care if I have to walk up the hill if that's the price I have to pay for zooming down it. And I am always horrified at discovering hills where you actually need to pedal to get down them. It is perverted and wrong and immoral. You're supposed to need your brakes on hills so you don't break the speed limit! That kind of hill is well worth routing around.

  13. #13
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    On my ride log on bikeforums.net, there's a category for "hilly", "rolling hills", etc, and I just leave it blank. If you're just starting or from the flatlands, every little bump is a major obstacle, if you're Mr. Beanz, then you don't notice that little 1000' hump in the middle of the ride. There's spots that I had to downshift and climb over when I first started that i don't even think about being hills now.
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  14. #14
    2 Fat 2 Furious contango's Avatar
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    I agree it depends what you're used to. Where I live is mostly pretty flat in most directions - there are a few steep hills but nothing hugely long (e.g. one hill is 10% but only for about 400 yards).

    When I visit friends in PA who live in a valley I see the descents with warning signs "8% for 3 miles" etc, and see some of the other ridges, and figure that's nothing like I will ever experience around my normal cycling ground.

  15. #15
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
    if you're Mr. Beanz, then you don't notice that little 1000' hump in the middle of the ride.
    We (ride partners and I) notice them, we just don't avoid them.

  16. #16
    Bulky Bullet Sayre Kulp's Avatar
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    In Florida, a speed bump is a "hill." LOL
    "Obstacles don't like me very much. I make them look bad."

  17. #17
    Ridin' South Cackalacky dahut's Avatar
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    Im not motivated enough for all that charting and data collecting and so on. I'm just a guy on a bike.
    But, if Im gaggin for air in the lowest gear and the road ahead looms OVER my head, I call that "hilly."
    About half of my riding is that type.

    The other half is the descents.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    I've been agonizing over whether to do this ride this weekend: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/52001136

    This is the most hills I've ever done, by far. MMR says 1300ft of climbing, but in my experience they are always off by at least half. I predict it's closer to 2500-3000 feet, over 40 miles. It says 3 category 5 climbs. Which scares me. I've only done 3 cat5's ever so far, each on separate rides. Each one exhausted me to a point where I could hardly continue. I end up doing them in my lowest gear (22/27), at a cadence of about 50, because I simply cannot spin any faster. I drove the course already... these hills look even bigger than the previous cat5's I've done.

    Sigh.
    Last edited by Mithrandir; 09-27-11 at 07:23 AM.

  19. #19
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    sayre: +1 I am in Orlando now and it is heaven. all flat!

  20. #20
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    a hill for me is ANY incline!

  21. #21
    Senior Member goldfinch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chefisaac View Post
    a hill for me is ANY incline!
    Me too.

  22. #22
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    If you're alternating between trying to maintain a decent cadence in a low gear while keeping your lungs from exploding followed by spinning out in your highest gear with a big grin on your face, it's hilly.

    If you break your tuck to stay under 40mph, it's hilly.

    If you pass a jogger, and you worry about staying ahead of him, it's hilly.

  23. #23
    Starting over CraigB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mithrandir View Post
    I end up doing them in my lowest gear (12/27)
    You have a 12-tooth chainring?
    Craig in Indy

  24. #24
    Senior Member Mithrandir's Avatar
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    Whoops, meant 22

    It was too early...

  25. #25
    Senior Member 1855Cru's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by billyymc View Post
    If you're alternating between trying to maintain a decent cadence in a low gear while keeping your lungs from exploding followed by spinning out in your highest gear with a big grin on your face, it's hilly.

    If you break your tuck to stay under 40mph, it's hilly.

    If you pass a jogger, and you worry about staying ahead of him, it's hilly.
    Heh heh, I like it!! Much simpler than my classifications
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